The Mayor of Vancouver and the Chief City Planner Gil Kelley have jointly submitted an editorial which has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. Under the headline “Vancouver Looks to Collaborate with San Francisco on Housing Solutions” there is an out of context photo of the housing on First Nations Land beside the Tsawwassen Mills Mall. This housing is lease hold land not free hold, but the caption states that this housing “starts at $619,900” and is part of an “economic boom“.
And here are portions of the Mayor’s and Mr. Kelley’s  text:  “The cities of the North American West Coast share so much as vibrant, sustainable and prosperous places to live and work in the 21st century. However, our success is no accident; through thoughtful city planning, San Francisco and the greater Bay Area, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia are cities that are the envy of the world.
We also face a common threat to that livability. We are seeing unprecedented escalation in housing costs for our working families, the “missing middle” and young professionals, as well as the increasing pressure on our most vulnerable populations…
We’ve learned the causes of the housing crisis are deep and powerful: housing is increasingly not “home” first but rather a commodity for investment on a global market for investors large and small, foreign and local, as interest rates remain low and equity searches for substantial returns. Who can blame the couple with equity to invest for buying a house or a condo that in a few years might double their return and provide a nest egg? For larger real estate interests, building and selling at the top of an ever upward-moving market or “reno-victing” tenants to increase rents are a matter of “rational” market behavior…
In Vancouver, we hope to get ahead of the same pressures San Francisco is facing. We’re taking action to limit speculative investment and put our housing stock to its best use by implementing Canada’s first Empty Homes Tax, a 1 percent annual tax on empty or under-used residential properties. We are preparing an ambitious 10-year housing strategy to lay the foundation for a diverse and equitable city. It starts with the notion that supply is not the issue — we have produced lots of housing over the past decade — but rather lack of the “right supply….
As a city similar to San Francisco with a finite supply of land, Vancouver will rely on density bonuses to augment our inclusionary housing requirements, as the primary tools to incentivize developers to provide the range of rental housing we need. We are also looking across all of our neighborhoods — from transit station areas and major corridors to single-family neighborhoods — for creative infill opportunities that maintain the character of these neighborhoods while providing new homes. These opportunities might include duplexes, row homes, town houses and more…
Overall, we aim to produce over the next decade about 7,000 new homes per year affordable to various household sizes and income levels, and not exceeding 30 percent of the household income on housing costs. Like San Francisco, our greatest reservoir of affordable housing is actually already built and rented by working singles and families, students and elderly residents on fixed incomes. We will need to look at ways to secure or replace much of that as affordable long-term rental stock…
We believe it is time for our mayors and planning directors to formalize a working West Coast Collaborative to tackle this and other issues facing our beautiful and prosperous cities, to share experiences and learn from each other as we advance our efforts to remain just and sustainable places. We hope you will join us.”
The full text of this opinion editorial can be found here.
The housing-income disconnect
Vancouver, British Columbia
$56,474 (in U.S. dollars) Median total household income (2015)
$1.119 million Median single-family home price (3Q, 2017)
San Francisco
$88,518 Median total household income (2015)
$1.130 million Median single-family home price


  1. Interesting. Sharing ideas always good.
    All these west Coast cities share their love for massive regulation, massive ( and extremely well paid) government bureaucracy, massive union power, entrenched NIMBY organizations, lack of land and a generally high tax environment.
    Perhaps losening regulations, reducing union power and lowering taxes will cause more housing to be built ? Is this #1 on their discussion list ?

    1. All those conditions have existed since the founding of both cities, so I’m dubious that all of a sudden they’ve created the situation we find ourselves in now. So what accounts for the rather recent and historically unprecedented rise in land values and housing costs? If you leave out speculation, flipping, off-shore marketing and, yes, the impact of foreign wealth on our finite land base and housing stock (without, ahem, paying income taxes), then you are just blowing smoke.
      I think what is needed is an adaptation of a concept from transportation planning called Transportation Demand Management, aimed at reducing traffic by, among other things, limiting on-site parking (supply), ride-share, etc. For this purpose, I’m suggesting a Housing Demand Management approach, rather than the simple untargeted “supply, supply, supply” mantra. We need to focus on providing the kinds of housing that meets the actual needs of working stiffs and families who wish to live, work, play and raise children here. In other words, for those who create our neighbourhoods.

      1. Immigration, international money, untaxed gains on real estate flipping or investments and low interest rates / QE all also big reasons for real estate price run up in most desirable cities .. especially in Canada where CRA enforcement and commercial crime division of RCMP is weak to non-existent ..
        Of course now the land is already very VERY expensive so it is hard to impossible to wind the clock back 30 years !
        Note our immigration is being increased, too. As such, expect this increase to continue or even accelerate.

  2. Maybe I’m naive but I contend that as long as housing is a commodity and profit is the motivation for creating it, the situation will never change. The “Vienna Model” that was given attention on this blog, should serve as a wake up call for municipal governments and urban planners https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/real-estate/vancouver/what-vancouver-can-learn-from-the-vienna-model-for-affordablehousing/article35128683/?ref=http://www.theglobeandmail.com&

  3. It seems reasonable that the city should consider non-market solutions. The private market, even with a long history of density bonuses, has not adequately addressed affordability. If the city, province and feds got together and built 25,000 units of non-market rental housing on public land over five years, then the market cannot help to respond by lowering prices with so many potential buyers taken off-stream. But this needs to be introduced with care. Developers could also respond by not building with less than ideal demand, which will have the opposite effect on prices.
    Think of a mass of tens of thousands of non-market rentals as the stable counterweight to volatile market condos. It will be a balancing act over the long run.
    What I really like about the Vienna model is that the buildings are ultimately well-designed and create walkable communities, human-scaled neighbourhoods and housing that matches demographics instead of the most profitable floorplans. Our version of “public housing” brings into mind the egregious intrusions of 50s and 60s tower blocks. Low and mid-rise buildings could predominate.
    Non-market housing doesn’t mean all will be subsidized. Maintaining break-even, non-profit revenue along with good maintenance and management standards will always offer stability permanently divorced from an over-heated market.
    Another consideration is that the province is moving to limit political donations at the municipal level. Big developer money will have to be sifted through tiny donation apertures before landing in Vision’s and the NPA’s campaign accounts. My guess is that less private money will then have less influence on policy, and opening the city’s land bank to well-designed rentals near transit will probably be easier to swallow.

  4. Would this be another case of the blind leading the blind?
    I’m not sure anyone should take San Francisco’s advice on housing or infrastructure. They’ve build all of nothing for decades. San Fran is the example of what happens when NIMBYs hold power for decades.

    1. It is an excuse for many more all-expenses-paid gabfests and fact-finding holidays.
      May the vacuous platitudes begin.

  5. It seems the giant is finally waking up. Some groups have found a way to navigate through the market housing affordability quagmire — by ignoring the market.
    A church has partnered with a non-profit developer to build affordable rental housing on its underdeveloped land that will be let at rates well below current market rents. The irony is that the site is located in Oakridge close to a subway station and surrounded by some of the most expensive real estate in the nation. I don’t believe public subsidies are involved. The church specifically stayed away from profit-driven development companies as part of their philosophy, and likely in part due to the needs of some of their parishioners.
    Frances Bula has written several times on the affordability crisis (I believe her previous piece was on the Vienna Model) but with the very welcome balance of researching and providing solutions rather than only harping breathlessly and exclusively on the steep rise in market prices without digging deeper to find the causes or offer realistic counter options. One of her colleagues at the Globe in particular can learn from her professionalism.
    Kudos, Frances.

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